RIBES: Flowers and Fruit
One of the first signs of that spring is nipping at our heels at Portland Nursery is the arrival of our berries. They begin to trickle into the nursery early in January, and currants and gooseberries are among the first to grace our tables. These fruitful shrubs are long-time European favorites, eaten fresh, added to pancakes or scones, used to make jam and juice or dried as ‘raisins’.
Portland Nursery has ordered following varieties of Currants and Gooseberries in 2008. Occasionally varieties are substituted, so please use this list as a guideline.
Red Currants – Ribes rubrum
Cherry Red – Large-fruited older variety with acid flavor – standard commercial variety
Red Lake – Large dark red fruit in clusters of 8-10 berries on long stems for easy picking – produces fruit at a young age and remains productive in part shade
Cascade – Slightly sweeter flavor than most currants with excellent pest resistance
Black Currants – Ribes nigrum
Ribes nigrum is European, Ribes odoratum is American
Consort – European - Sweet, unique, musky flavor
Crandall – American – Ornamental yellow scented flowers followed by large fruit in clusters with sweet-tart flavor
White Currants – Ribes rubrum
Ribes rubrum - Beautiful white translucent fruit with a pink blush – richest and sweetest flavor of all currants.
Look for Blanka and White Imperial
Gooseberries – Ribes hirtellium
Captivator – Large, 1” tear-drop shaped berries are green when immature, turning pink and finally red when ripe, average flavor
Hinomaki Red – New this year
Oregon Champion – Originated in Salem before 1880 – Medium to large yellow-green fruit stays green and is sweet when ripe - very productive variety with high yields.
Pixwell – Large oval light green fruit turns pink when ripe. Fruit is high in sugar, soft and juicy.
Poorman – 1” berries are oval to pear-shaped and ripen to wine-red when ripe. Excellent, highly flavored, aromatic sweet variety good for eating fresh.
Black Velvet – R. divaricatum x R. hirtellium – Sweet dark fruit with a blueberry flavor
Ribes for Flowers – Flowering Currants
The Pacific Northwest hosts several native species of Ribes, the most prominent being Ribes sanguineum or Flowering Currant. These graceful shrubs dot our hillsides with pink fragrant flowers in late winter, before leaves fill in the landscape.
Flowering Currants have racemes of tubular flowers that feed hummingbirds during a season when few other plants offer nectar. Berries follow, and are edible, though they are seedy and are better left for birds. Plants grow to 6-8’ tall and wide, produce more flowers in full sun and are hardy to zone 5.
Brocklebankii – Dark pink flowers and chartreuse foliage cause quite a stir in spring
Hannaman White – Earliest to bloom with white flowers and sweet, almost astringent scent
Also look for King Edward VII with dark pink flowers; Pokey’s Pink with pale pink flowers; and Pulburough Scarlet with dark pink flowers.
Photo credits to Whitman Farms and Oregon State University
Common Name: Currant or Gooseberry
Origin: Many ornamental species are native to Oregon and to the Western US & Canada from British Columbia to California, with some occurring in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. Fruiting species are native to Eastern US, Europe & North Africa.
Characteristics: Around 150 species of Ribes exist. Generally they are shrubby, mostly deciduous, sometimes thorny with alternate, simple, lobed leaves.
Flower colors range from white to green, yellow to peach and pink. Flowers are usually bisexual, therefore self-fertile, creating fruit after bloom. Fruit is edible, and tasty in the case of Currants and Gooseberries.
Culture: Most Ribes species will thrive in Portland. Our weather is perfect with mild temperatures, ample rain and humid summers.
Ribes prefer acidic to neutral soil pH, so ours are typically fine, though it will not hurt to add lime when planting a fruiting currant or gooseberry.
Ribes like good soil drainage, so adding compost when planting is recommended. Roots are shallow and fibrous, so water fruiting varieties frequently in the summer to keep berries plump and juicy.
Plant in full sun to part shade. Cold hardiness varies per species, but all are hardy in Portland.
Pests & Diseases: Ribes are affected by several fungal diseases in the Northwest - Anthracnose, Blister Rust and Powdery Mildew. All can affect the viability of fruit and the overall growth and vigor of the plant.
The first step in preventing disease is to take precautions when planting, and add compost to the planting hole to improve soil drainage. This improves air flow in the root system.
Healthy roots equal healthy plants.
Site the plant in a spot that gives it enough space to fill out, allows for good air circulation, and provides enough light.
Fertilizing with too much nitrogen can cause plants to be susceptible to powdery mildew as well. Use a fertilizer that is higher in potassium and phosphorus. Also add magnesium (found in dolomite lime).
Don’t allow plants to sit in water.
If problems occur, remove any diseased foliage from around the plant and add a layer of mulch on top of the soil.
Plan B - If all else fails, we offer organic and synthetic fungicides at both of our retail locations.